DuPont &Tainted Water Allegations In Wilmington

The reports of the tainted water supply from a chemical plant in Wilmington, North Carolina are both alarming and shocking in nature. The Cape Fear water supply is infected with large levels of a chemical agent called GenX.

This chemical has been linked to numerous health conditions which have been exhibited in residents living in that area which utilize the Cape Fear water supply. The incidents have been staggering, and the report from CBS News states that evidence exists that could indicate that the chemical has been present in the water supply for decades.

The chemical plant is operated by Chemours, which is a spinoff company of the agricultural chemical giant, DuPont. The company formed and split off Chemours as part of the steps taken for regulatory approval of DuPont to merge with another goliath in the industry, Dow Chemical.

This particular chemical, GenX, is a replacement component used in the process of making Teflon. It is has been linked to potential cancer causing effects and is present in the drinking water supply of Cape Fear River which serves tens of thousands of people. The substance has been in the water supply for 37 years because there is no standard for measuring or testing for that chemical.

GenX is a processing aide and replaced a substance called P.F.O.A. which had a long history of safety issues itself. The process of making Teflon received largely unnoticed media coverage as the company moved forward with production utilizing GenX in the formulation.

DuPont insisted to the public that the substitute was safe, yet had issued over fifteen documents behind closed doors that cited concerns over health and safety of the chemical. The “to make matters worse” segment of this article is that Chemours, according to local news reports, will not commit to stopping the release of further GenX into the river.

The municipal government response is almost tragic in that they will not state that GenX is safe to consume but they will not state that it is unsafe either. The recent fallout legally from the horrendous water crisis in Flint should give these local officials pause when dealing with these issues. The official response from the municipal level is that they are deferring to the county for further direction.

The local area residents, most of them at least, are understandably very upset. The fact that toxic material has been in the water for decades and undisclosed is yet another example of corporate distrust in the American public perception. The reports I saw referenced some other area residents with the opinion that the river is contaminated from all sorts of chemicals and that should be common knowledge for a local person.

The news will have little to no impact on the proposed merger between Dow and DuPont because Chemours was spun off and is technically a separate entity at this point from DuPont. The DuPont merger with Dow would initially create one huge company that then will be split in legal terms into five smaller companies, or units.

It may not damage the chances for the merger to be approved, but this situation in North Carolina still connects DuPont to a tainted water supply, which is damaging in the court of public opinion. That can be a force that should not be underestimated.

The recent developments out of Flint, Michigan which were referred to earlier in this piece also could play a role in the way that the situation in North Carolina gets handled from both a government and a media coverage standpoint. The disaster in Flint has gripped the nation and the consensus opinion drawn from that tragedy of contaminated water and government cover-ups is: this can never happen again. The situation with Chemours and the Cape Fear River can get some significant backlash because of the timing of the whole situation.

The direction of the situation could evolve into a similar one to Flint, where an investigation into who knew about the effects of GenX and when did they know become significant findings. It could also become a scenario that proves difficult to build a case because so many people can claim ignorance on the effects of the chemical.

This tragic situation is evolving and will continue to do so in the coming weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, there will be more questions raised than there are answers available. The lives of residents and the quality of life of families from all backgrounds and demographics will hang in the balance. This will all come together around another American corporation trying to defend itself from what it knew a long time ago: that putting these chemicals into the river would have consequences.

It is inconceivable that we could have another situation like Flint in our future, but it appears that at the very least this Cape Fear River debacle is on the surface a very significant public health threat, and what lies beneath that surface is what we are all bracing for in the near future.

Follow Up: Flint Water Crisis – Officials Criminally Charged & The Fallout Ahead

In a follow up to previous articles on this tragedy, the Flint, Michigan water crisis is back in the mainstream news cycle. A total of five government employees have been charged with manslaughter including the head of the Michigan health department.

These charges stem from their role in the water crisis where lead contaminants left residents deathly ill. The residents got sick from Legionnaires disease, which is a respiratory condition and type of pneumonia that is caused by a few factors, but was connected to the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint.

The news media was speculating about who may be charged next in this investigation into one of the worst public health disasters in American history and whether those charges would reach the Governor of Michigan. It is not known how much the Governor knew, or when he was informed of certain developments surrounding the crisis with the water supply in that beleaguered city.

The water crisis in Flint represented a calamity on so many levels between the negligence being alleged, the lack of adequate training for local city water officials, and then the steps taken when the problems with the contamination were verified. The result is a massive problem with the water supply of an entire city and reports of illness across the demographics from the elderly, to women, teenagers, children, and babies.

It is a very public example of failure of public governance in the area of public health and safety. That is the key message behind the charges handed down to the five public officials accused of these serious offenses. The fact that the water from the Flint River supply source was not treated properly caused lead to be emitted from the older pipes in the system. The damage is costly with estimates running at around anywhere from $55 to $95 million to replace all of the pipes which provide drinking water to residents and other structures in Flint.

Most of that money is going to come from lawsuits filed by the residents against the EPA primarily and the state has pledged to replace the water lines that connect to the main distribution and pipe systems for 18,000 homes by 2020.

That is all well and good but the question remains: what will residents do in the interim? The water crisis has decimated an already depressed market for real estate in Flint. In essence, nobody wants to move there and the residents cannot sell their homes to relocate elsewhere. It is a total mess, with the fallout so far – reaching it is hard to fathom.

There have been accounts of government officials concealing evidence regarding the toxicity levels of the water, which is greatly concerning for obvious reasons. The entire situation has both frustrated and saddened Americans across the country as well as triggered the investigation into lead levels in other cities and counties.

The situation in Flint is tragic and heartbreaking and is unique to other public health issues that came before it for a variety of reasons. First, it was widespread and encompassed an entire American city which is rare for a public health issue which are usually confined to a specific area or neighborhood.

Second, it was so intricately covered up for years by different levels of government from the local, county, and state level as well as involving the EPA. The levels of lead and other toxins in the Flint River have now been well documented. The situation with that water supply was so bad that General Motors stopped using that water supply for their factory in Flint.

The final main component of this whole disastrous situation, at least in the scope of the general public, is that the damage is already done. The water supply has made many people sick with some unable to work, children have been so ill they have dropped out of school, and some people died in relation to the contaminated water supply.

The city and state level of government can issue all the statements they want about how the water supply has been changed back to the Detroit water supply which Flint used for decades before the cost-cutting switch to the local supply took place. The damage has already been done, just because the supply has changed, the pipes are still leaching chemicals and lead so they must be replaced.

The people who are sick and who have sick children or sick parents from tainted water cannot be cured by a switch in water supply or by issuing statements about correcting the problem three years from now. They are sick, that damage has been done, and there is no going back.

Some within the media have dubbed the situation in Flint as the “crisis with no end in sight” because of the sheer scope of the problems caused by the tainted water and the brazen way that the government tried to prevent the people from knowing about the problems which existed.

The attorney general for the State of Michigan has vowed that he is not done with the investigation they are conducting into this disaster. He stated after these first four arrests were announced that they will have more charges handed down to others involved in the coming months.

The federal government has taken no responsibility for helping the effort to be resolved, and some feel that they should provide some type of funding more than the band-aid funds sent about a year ago.

The “crisis with no end in sight” will continue on in a variety of levels in Flint between the government, the public health implications, and the restoration effort for their water supply pipe system. The investigation into this horrible tragedy has a long way to go before it is concluded. In the interim, thousands of American families have had their lives altered in terrible ways and also see no end in sight.

The Commodification of Water

Many people living in America and other Western societies tend to take for granted the resources that we have at our fingertips which require little to no effort to obtain. One of those resources is also the most critical one: access to water.

I have fallen victim to this situation myself, having lived in America my entire life, never having to think about where my next glass of water would come from, or if I had enough water to take a shower. I simply turn on the tap and have access to safe, clean, unlimited drinking water.

However, as my previous experience covering the severe drought conditions that have plagued the American West have taught me, not everyone in America has had that same access to water as my experience has afforded me. The limited supply of water in states such as California and Nevada, the dangerously low levels of supply at reservoirs such as Lake Mead, and the changes in the levels of snowfall in the Rockies have prolonged the severity of the drought. The associated snowpack melting in the Rockies is what serves as one of the main supply points for the Colorado River and other Western rivers which feed into Lake Mead.

The access to water is also severely limited in certain areas of the world from Developing World areas in Africa and South America; to areas with booming populations and commerce such as China, India, Russia, and parts of Southeast Asia.

The simple fact is that the demand for water is very strong and the available supply of safe, clean water is low in comparison. Then, the projected demand over the next several years demonstrates that this demand curve is only going to enhance the demand for water, and that creates the classic supply and demand scenario that has Wall Street as well as other commodity experts speculating about one big idea: the commodification of water.

Buying & Selling A Life-sustaining resource

This idea at the core is both controversial and extremely complicated, while at the same time contains far reaching potential consequences. The financial markets buy and sell commodity positions on all sorts of materials from cattle, to coffee and even orange juice. The thought of that sort of trading with water is unthinkable to some, and a natural progression in the trade of a valued commodity to others.

The rationale behind these feelings is pretty self-evident, water is needed for survival where other commodities are not. The thought process around water and the access to water is different too, with many people (especially in the Western societies) feeling that they are entitled to water, or that water should be provided and not bought and sold on an exchange. Those feelings are all understandable.

However, water is currently sold on commodities markets in the form of ETF (Exchange Traded Funds) types of arrangements. In fact, for all those out there that saw the film, The Big Short, starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell which revolved around the housing bubble bursting and the economic crash that followed. The real-life character Bale depicted in the film, Dr. Michael Burry, has already began focusing his purchasing efforts on buying commodity positions in water.

Dr. Burry was ahead of the curve on the housing market with the swaps and CDOs, and now is focused on water which is a scary proposition. The current ETF structure places various products having to do with water such as the makers of pumps, filters, or irrigation systems with those who make equipment for water utilities. The Palisades Water Index, Dow Jones U.S. Water Index, ISE-B&S Water Index, and the S&P 1500 Water Index are a few of the most well-known funds that deal with water related trading activity.

In North America, this issue has come to the forefront with the controversies surrounding Nestle and other bottled water companies being able to utilize water supplies from Indian reservations in California while the state is on a water restriction. I covered that issue as well as the drought impact on Lake Mead so I have read countless reports and studies about the water supply in the domestic United States.

Another controversy surrounding Nestle was the purchase of a large water utility in Canada which serves the public. It is a dangerous potential precedent which led to protests and a call for a boycott of Nestle bottled water in Canada. The company also has outbid locals in Ontario for use of well water supplies for the purposes of bottling water, and Nestle has a permit to take water from an Ontario watershed during a drought restriction in that part of Canada. These incidences have outraged the locals and has initiated much the same argument as I posed with my prior work on Nestle in California: should they be allowed to sell water for a profit during a drought? It raises some serious questions.

Check and Balance

The commodification of water is also very complicated and is viewed by some in the investing and commodity trading sectors as a scenario which will never reach full realization. This is due largely to the reality that water is regulated by utilities which are operated, in whole or in part, by the state or the county. The municipal and county government or state level government involvement in the water supply is seen as the major deterring factor to essentially “check and balance” the trading of water as a commodity.

While the role of government may be factor in the U.S. and some other countries, it is certainly not the case in every country that is either dealing with water scarcity now, or will have an issue with the supply of water in the future. The financial market news site, The Street, reports that infrastructure spending for water supply related projects is estimated at $22 trillion over the next 20 years. That spending figure is just to maintain the status quo and does not account for new demand areas in growing population centers which I mentioned earlier.

That same piece done by The Street goes on to explain that the future investment strategy with regard to water will involve the infrastructure companies. The rationale around that statement makes sense because most of those same companies are diversified, therefore they will be involved with other infrastructure projects in other industries, not just with water related projects.

The thought of brokers or other “power elite” types buying positions in the supply of water is a downright frightening proposition for many in the general public. Furthermore, there are those who had no idea that the trend toward the commodification of water was even on the horizon, which is part of the impetus behind my choosing to write this piece.

Frightening & Intriguing

The reality is that water scarcity is a real issue confronting our future. It will impact supply and demand to a level that speculators will take a run at investing in positions at least in the ETFs involved. The response of other Developing World countries and emerging market countries, such as the BRICs countries I mentioned earlier, remains to be determined. They may decide to privatize the supply of water, in a country like China they will most likely implement measures where the supply is completely controlled by the national government, and Russia could fall somewhere in between. That portion of this scenario bears watching.

The commodification of water is also seen as both frightening and intriguing at the same time: frightening because it is a life-sustaining resource that most people feel should not be consolidated into the hands of a few wealthy individuals or entities, and intriguing from the investment perspective because there is no substitute for water like there is with certain other commodities.

The argument could be made that other natural resources such as oil and gold are traded as commodities, but the converse side is that neither of those resources are critical to sustaining life which water is most certainly. There are others within the investment world which feel that the buying of positions relative to the market on water may be essentially a bunch of noise. This is because the investors and those making valuations have difficulty in measuring the profitability of the private companies involved in the water industry.

Moreover, there is a sentiment that water is strictly a niche commodity investment and does not have the return rate needed to be a stand-alone investment. All of these factors will serve as the backdrop to the future where water will be in decreased supply and increased demand, unless some other method or technology comes along relative to the desalination of saltwater. That would “change the game” dramatically given the immense amount of saltwater that could be utilized.

In the end, the debate over whether or not a life-sustaining natural resource such as water should be traded as a commodity will continue. The potential for water scarcity for nearly half the population of the globe will also be a pressing issue in the future. Should water be traded as a commodity? Should it be exempt? Should industry titans such as Nestle be allowed to profit from resources that could serve local populations and not serve their bottom line?

Those questions will face us now and in future, with drastic and far-reaching consequences.

(Background and some statistics courtesy of The Street, Investopedia, U.S. News & World Report,, and

Lake Mead Water Level At Record Low Point

Over the weekend, the news feeds brought a renewed concern for the drought in the American Southwest with reports of Lake Mead recording the lowest water level ever in history. This new evidence is the most visible sign of the effect that the horrific drought has maintained over the western U.S. in recent years. The change in snowfall totals in the Rockies and the associated water which comes from when that melts and enters the river system which feeds the Colorado River is a domino effect which has initiated renewed concerns throughout the region.

Lake Mead is the main source for water for Las Vegas and its 2 million residents as well as the several million guests who vacation to the desert resort destination annually. The water authority for the region has a plan in place where it will divert more water from the Colorado River through the Hoover Dam and into Lake Mead to offset the impact of these torrid drought conditions.

This diversion of water, while a short term solution, is really the only viable solution available at this point. In my prior work on this topic, I learned a great deal about the water supply system, and like anything else, when there is limited supply and increasing demand then adjustments have to be made. I also learned that Las Vegas has excellent water conservation, reusability, and sustainability campaigns in place so they cannot operate with any more efficiency than they currently do within the latest technology available.

This drought and the accompanying water supply disruptions in California, Arizona, and other western states is nothing new. The effects of climate change and decreasing rates of precipitation have plagued that region for the past few years. The regional water authorities have had to become creative with their supply and demand dilemmas. The restrictions on water usage for residents in California and the coinciding acquiescence to allow beverage companies to bottle water for profit was the subject of a previous article I wrote on this issue.

The precipitous drop in the water level at Lake Mead and in other western reservoirs calls into question the future implications for the residents of that region as well as sustaining the tourism aspect of Las Vegas, which is the main catalyst for the economy in Nevada.

Some of you may know that the water in the Colorado River is divided among several states in the region based on a federal law passed several decades ago. The news media in the west is anticipating a potential interstate dispute over water supply to be the end result of the Lake Mead water supply decline. In the current agreement I was surprised to learn that Nevada gets the smallest portion of the Colorado River reserves, but the larger issue is the ramifications of a longer term disruption in water supply.

In my own personal journey covering this critically important topic I wrote and included a poem called “Drought Conditions” in a prior commentary op-ed piece. The poem was very well received in a stand-alone link as well. Those sentiments still sadly hold true to this day. The drought in the west involving water is indicative of a much larger drought in our society at large. We have moved away from our core values as a country and that has caused a downward spiral across the board.

The solutions to this drought in Nevada and California are not clear, whether we will witness an interstate debate with Congress involved over water rights remains to be seen. However, if we returned to our root national values and put the common good of our fellow citizens at the forefront of our decisions, if we shared our resources and our solutions instead of hoarding them, our country as well as our society would be a much better place.

Left Untreated: Flint Michigan Water Crisis – Follow Up

In a follow up to an earlier story on this terrible tragedy in Flint, Michigan where the water supply has been unsafe and slowly making the residents there very sick; some new information emerged today. It was originally reported in the Detroit Free Press and AP who have both done some insightful reporting on this shocking story.

The mystery behind why the water from the Flint River was allowed to flow freely without being properly treated stems from two issues: a mistake by a state level official and an equipment upgrade to the city water treatment facility that Flint could not afford. Those two issues combined to cause a horrible disaster where for 14 months contaminated water entered every house, school, business, and park in Flint.

First, the mistake by the state level official, Mike Prysby, from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was asked by the plant supervisor of the Flint water treatment facility about the addition of phosphate to the water, which is an anti-corrosive to prevent the leaching of lead into the water supply. The response from Prysby, according to AP, was that phosphorous did not have to be added for an entire year, which was a completely incorrect answer with horrendous consequences.

Second, there are other media reports out of Michigan that explain that the Flint water treatment plant needed upgraded equipment in order to properly add the amount of phosphate and other anti-corrosive additives in the correct amounts to deal with that large a water supply. The reason why the plant upgrades were not done was because Flint was broke and was already operating with a city manager that was making budget cuts on a widespread level.

The city eventually formally submitted a grant for the money, about $8 million, for water plant facility upgrades, but this was several months after the change in the supply was made to the local water supply instead of from the Detroit water supply chain. The damage was essentially already done.

Damage Control

The current situation there calls for a complete removal and replacement of all the pipes in the City of Flint, which they have petitioned to Congress for that funding. This entire tragedy, the backdrop to it being a combination of human error, negligence, and potentially being dishonest with the public about how widespread the financial issues facing Flint were begs the question: How can we fix this terrible situation? How can we prevent it from happening again, if it has not already occurred? What changes need to be made to the model of how the typical American city is managed?

I do not know the answers to these questions, but maybe someone in the audience does have some feedback or ideas in this regard. I am still researching and trying to determine how this damage can be reversed, how it can be controlled, but I know that some of it cannot be reversed. The damage to children and other more susceptible residential populations with regard to lead poisoning has already been done.

No Guidelines

The news on Flint also comes amid reports of potentially similar water contamination problems in many other American cities, towns, and communities. The EPA came under fire last week regarding the lack of commitment to any type of new guidelines regarding the levels of lead in the water supply. The agency made some indications about a year ago that it was readying a protocol for lead in municipal water systems. The EPA has come under intense scrutiny for the fact that in the wake of the events in Flint, they are still not coming forward with any type of guidance regarding this horrendous public health problem.

The agency has stated that they are still investigating and evaluating certain methods to determine the correct lead contamination protocols and testing procedures. The EPA has taken the position that they do not want to rush to judgement on the issue.

Conversely, there is a growing public sentiment that believe that the EPA needs to release some guidelines for the handling of lead in the water supply because it poses such a significant public safety risk. The situation, unfortunately, is very political and it should not be.

The news revealed this week that the tragedy with lead poisoning in the water supply in Flint could have been averted will only stand to make the residents there and in other parts of America increasingly angry and distressed. It will do nothing but add salt to the wounds of the parents with sick children in that Michigan city.

My original article posed the question: how could this happen? This story reveals the answer. It is proof of the consequences of actions when things are left untreated, in this case literally. Many questions still remain including: what happens next? How can it be fixed? I do not have those answers sadly, and I am deeply upset that I even have to ask them in the first place.

California In Drought – Nestle Bottles Water?

The severe drought conditions being experienced in the West have been a source of concern for several months and have shown no signs of improvement. There are mandatory fines in California, Nevada, and other western states for watering lawns or washing down driveways. The agricultural consequences of this drought have been devastating to California with reports of crops lost.


The job market in California has been impacted as well with farming and other agricultural related jobs down across the board. The drought has effected small towns in the desert valleys and big cities near the coast, with nearly 95% of the Golden State’s population in some sort of water restriction.


Here on my blog, Frank’s Forum, I have covered the impact of the drought on Lake Mead and the subsequent water supply issues for Las Vegas, parts of Arizona, and Southern California. One of the “mega themes” of my blog is the environment and issues of sustainability, so this issue falls into both of those categories.


The media has reported recently about another controversial aspect dealing with the sustainability of water amidst the catastrophic drought gripping California at this point and that is the continued practice of Nestle to bottle water there for export to other states.


The issue is a highly charged and polarizing one with some viewing the activity by Nestle as wrong or unfair; and others viewing it as a necessary job creator and supplier of a healthy beverage alternative.


Current Conditions

The estimates from well-respected environmental science groups are that the Western states have lost 63 trillion gallons of water during the drought. This is driven primarily by the effects of climate change on the supply sources which in turn feed the reservoirs in those states.


In California, three major reservoir areas have been dramatically impacted by the drought conditions plaguing that huge state:

  • Trinity Lake = 29% capacity
  • Shasta (fed by Sacramento River) = 30% capacity
  • Oroville = 31% capacity

The City of San Jose recently instituted a city-wide water restriction policy for the over 982,000 residents of California’s third largest city. The restrictions include a fine of $500.00 for washing down a driveway.


Sacramento and other large cities throughout California have similar water restriction policies in place. The reservoir supply levels are so drastically low, that these policies are necessary to better protect the remaining supply of this dwindling and essential natural resource.


In my research, the local websites for news in California are covered with advertising for lawn replacement services promoting sales of synthetic grass products.  It is only natural that conditions dictate a market for other businesses to provide their products or services which are driven by the demand for those products; in this case due to the unfortunate severity of the drought conditions.


Many California residents have ripped up their lawns rather than watch them wither away and die because they cannot use the water to nurture their grass and other landscaping. This action also has a conservative effect in that the synthetic surfaces will obviously help retain water supply levels for use for drinking or other critical functions.  These same residents have varied opinions on the fact that one giant food and beverage company is still allowed to bottle water for sale while everyone else is dealing with shortages of this resource.


The Nestle Dilemma


The bottled water division of Nestle’, the world’s largest food company, has several brands under its umbrella. In the California desert, in Millard Canyon which is about 80 miles east of Los Angeles, is the site of the water source for Nestlé’s Arrowhead Natural Spring Water and Pure Life water brands.


The site is located on the Morongo Indian Reservation and is considered a sovereign nation therefore it does not have to comply with state laws concerning the drought restrictions on water. Nestle entered into a 25 year agreement with the tribe sometime around 2001-02.


Under the terms of this agreement, Nestle pays the tribe for the water it extracts from the site. An ancillary component of this arrangement is that the source site is exempt from local oversight and is not legally obligated to disclose the water amounts being utilized for the manufacturing of their product.


The reports from local residents are mostly negative toward Nestle because those communities are dealing with water restrictions, sewage issues, and disruptions in their water service. It is understandable that they would be upset that just down the road a huge corporation is drawing out water to bottle and export to other states across America.


The State of California has 100 bottled water facilities located within its borders, and their operation has been largely unaffected by the drought. The majority of the other water facilities have a different situation than the Nestle facility in Millard Canyon. Those production facilities have to report their water consumption activity to a state level agency. The water conservation restrictions are handled by the county level or local authorities, and they are essentially cut out of the situation when the bottled water manufacturers deal directly with the state agency in Sacramento.


It is important to mention that the other bottled water manufacturers have strong feelings regarding the Nestle deal at Millard Canyon and have aired those grievances to the media. The general consensus is that all the bottled water and beverage manufacturers should be held to the same standards for reporting their respective usage at all the facilities located in California.


This activity begs the question: Should the bottled water companies be allowed to proceed when the rest of the California is under such dire water restrictions? Should Nestle be allowed to bottle water in an essentially completely unregulated scenario on a Native American Indian reservation?


Meanwhile, CNBC published a very well done piece on this subject which explains how much water is used to make soft drinks, scotch whiskey, and other beverages.


In my own professional background working in the food and beverage industry and dealing with bottled water companies, I know that it takes water to make water. In order to make 1 liter of bottled water it takes 1.39 liters of water that is due to the amount lost during the various stages of processing.


In addition, it should be noted that the packaging used, which is also made in California, the PET plastic and the various other plastic bottle packaging uses a significant amount of water in the production process. In a place where water is in a critical level shortage it has raised debate over whether it is appropriate for this activity to continue.



Green Water


The bottled water industry is a $12.2 billion dollar empire and California is a state strapped with debt and other economic problems, making this situation even more problematic on a variety of levels.


Local residents also note that Nestle has a reputation for moving into small towns and communities and draining the area of all the water supply, “down to the last drop” as one resident explains, and then moves on to the next town.


Many groups of concerned residents and environmental conservationists maintain that this sort of activity by Nestle and other large beverage manufacturers involved in bottling water should be regulated and curtailed as soon as possible.


If California were to get involved in a regulatory measure against the bottled water manufacturers, it would constrain further the economic difficulties of this state in a post recessionary period that has been very difficult. However, the larger ethical questions raised and the ecological impact involved has become the central focus of the debate in the Golden State at this point which has become more important than the economic issues involved.


Nestle responded to some of these allegations but did not comment on the questions regarding their past practices of extracting a source to the end and then uprooting out of the respective community. The company did, in fair balance, raise the point that if they were to cease operations then the people of California would be forced to choose an alternative beverage such as soda, iced tea, or beer. The company spokesperson focused on their commitment to providing healthy choices through bottled water and that they have strict environmental standards in place to remain compliant with California laws.


The Nestle plant, it was noted, was designed to prevent damage to the local groundwater supply. Though the details to how it is designed specifically were not disclosed.


The Morongo facility is on tribal land, and they are not bound to disclose information on the water usage levels there. However, for those residents that maintain that it creates jobs, the detractors would point out that the facility employs 250 people.




The fact remains that water is a precious natural resource and it needs to be safeguarded and protected during times of drought or supply shortage. The concurrent theme running through this situation is that of the effects of climate change.


In my previous work covering the dire situation at Lake Mead, the largest water reservoir in the United States, it is apparent that climate change is having a dramatic impact on the mountain streams which feed the Colorado River, which in turn supplies Lake Mead.


The changes in temperatures and environmental as well as atmospheric conditions coupled with the increased westward population migration trend in the United States, and the result is a significant problem with potentially dangerous consequences to a huge number of people. The impact of climate change and migratory patterns of several species of birds including the changing temperatures being tied to the deaths of these animals has also received increased media attention this week.


In Nevada, the state and local government agencies have worked diligently on programs focused on sustainability of the water supply through the reuse and recycling of the water in their system. Some reports I researched detailed the proposals currently pending in California regarding similar measures, though some members of the population are hesitant about the recycling processes involving wastewater, so it remains a work in progress.


I believe that recycled water technologies are going to account for a large amount of the innovations moving forward as a method to deal with the effects of climate change. The system currently in place to provide water service to residences and businesses in many regions of America leaves some room for improvement and increased focus on sustainability.


The question remains: Should Nestle and other beverage conglomerates be allowed to bottle water for export to other states during severe drought conditions where residents are dealing with restricted access to water?


That debate will continue to be a part of our national conversation but the role of climate change in this scenario cannot be overlooked. The larger question of our role in environmental stewardship will also continue to frame a much larger argument in the months to come.


(Background information and statistics courtesy of CNBC, USA Today, The Associated Press, and the International Bottled Water Association)



Lake Mead: Crisis or Climate Change?

The conditions at Lake Mead seem to get worse each year. It is the largest reservoir in the United States and it supplies water to 20 million people living in 3 states in the Southwest.


The water level in the lake is dangerously low and is anticipated to drop another 20 feet this year, which would place the water level perilously close to drought stage levels. This change in water levels would require the implementation of water conservation protocols throughout the region.


Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States and the 16th largest man-made lake in the entire world. It is located 24 miles southeast of Las Vegas, and it is responsible for supplying 90% of the water supply for the internationally renowned tourist resort.


The reservoir is supplied water through the Hoover Dam and the adjoining Lake Powell via the Colorado River through snow melt in the Rocky Mountains and rainfall as well. The water level decrease is due to less snow fall in those mountain areas and shifts in rainfall patterns.


An Ongoing Problem


The water level decrease has been a consistent and ongoing problem over the past several years at Lake Mead. Since the year 2000, the reservoir has lost 4 trillion gallons of water. The Southern Nevada Water Authority which oversees the site, has significant concerns about the disruption in the water supply to Las Vegas and the surrounding areas served by Lake Mead.

Any disruption in the water supply would have a negative effect on tourism and for the residents of the resort city. The tourism dollars generated by Las Vegas and the other resort areas, fuel the economy for the entire state of Nevada, so the consequences here are steep.


The Southern Nevada Water Authority concedes that they have moved dangerously close to the drought stage water level before, but the weather pattern shifts have them very concerned at this juncture for the potential of a drought this summer.


Therefore, all of this data presents a central question: is this shift in water levels tied to climate change or is it a crisis? What steps can be taken to avert the potential for drought or water supply disruption? What role can technology or advancements in engineering play in this situation?


Las Vegas Misconception


The misconception about Las Vegas with regard to water use is that the city is excessive and wasteful when, in fact, the city recycles 93% of their water supply. The government also offers incentives for residents who remove their lawns to reduce the consumption of water.


These steps towards conservation leave very little more that the resort city can do to decrease their burden on the water supply system. In fact, the Las Vegas metropolitan area actually grew in population and decreased their overall use of water according to a report from CBS News.


In California, the government has placed restrictions on water use in several regions which are supplied by the reservoir in Lake Mead. So the effort toward water conservation is unified throughout the multi-state area supplied by this important reservoir.


Despite all of these efforts, the increasingly likely event of a drought persists to the south at Lake Mead, and the Colorado River which feeds the reservoir also shows signs of drying up. These are alarming events and the government is looking to take measures to avoid this situation.


Evasive Action


The way that the reservoir surrounding the Hoover Dam is constructed allows for the diversion of water from Lake Powell over to Lake Mead, so that is the first evasive action that will take place in order to avert a drought level event from occurring.


The water levels in Lake Mead coupled with the choked supply of resources from the Colorado River have left the water plummeting toward falling below the intake tunnels, which would be a disastrous situation.


In response to these shifts in water level, climate patterns, and “snow pack” in the Rockies, the government is drilling a new intake tunnel to feed Lake Mead which is further down below the surface than the other intake system.


According to a report by CBS News and information provided by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, they have a massive drill working on the new intake which will be completed in 2015 at a total cost of approximately $800 million.


Climate Change


What if this situation is driven solely by climate change? What if the levels of snow continue to vary and the rainfall patterns continue to shift? How will these factors impact the future of Lake Mead, and thereby the future of Las Vegas?


The National Park Service estimates that 96% of the water in Lake Mead is supplied by melting snow from the Upper Rockies region. What if the snow fall amounts in that region decrease over a sustained period of years? That would spell a catastrophe for the water supply in those areas of the American West.


The flow of the Colorado River has been slowing down over the course of several years. It is obvious that warmer temperatures will lead to more evaporation and a decrease in flow from the river. In the area of water management that decrease in water flow from the river is a big problem because the water is already over allocated.


Therefore, any decrease in water flow will have drastic consequences and result in some form of disruption to the water supply. Climate change in the form of rising air temperatures will result in higher ozone levels which will impact power plant emissions which would be limited by the government to comply with ozone level regulations.


Higher air temperatures and drought conditions would cause increased health problems such as asthma, stroke, heart attack, and other respiratory or cardiovascular issues throughout Nevada. That would put the elderly population there at high risk and also drive up the cost of health care.




The future of Lake Mead and consequently, the water supply for people living in three states in the region, is uncertain. The experts admit they have no idea what impact this new intake will yield in 2015.


Many groups have suggested solutions to the water supply issues with the Colorado River and the reservoir at Lake Mead. It remains to be seen whether this situation will be isolated or if it is a crisis that will plague the region in the future.


Some people have called for the building of more dams, others have suggested the implementation of other systems to retain more water flow from the Rockies and contain the amount currently lost in runoff.


However, still other groups believe that the world is changing and that water conservation and other steps will only take the region so far; that life with water restrictions is going to be the rule rather than the exception. The future will be a lifestyle where the limitations on water will be an everyday part of living in that region.


I was struck by the amount of information that predicts a very bleak future for the water supply in Nevada and parts of Southern California. I have worked in the past with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and they are very open minded about solutions and highly committed to providing the best quality water that they can in the conditions they are functioning within.


The future of this matter may be uncertain, but some aspects remain clear. A solution to this water level problem is needed before it reaches a crisis level. I hope that solution is found before it reaches that point. The future of Las Vegas depends upon it.   


(Statistics and background information courtesy of CBS News, Science World Report, Las Vegas Sun, National Park Service, Sierra Club, Southern Nevada Water Authority,  and NBC News)